Books aren't dead. They're just getting digitized, like everything else. While there's a real charm to owning a stack of bound paper that you can fold the corners of, underline, and read without staring at a screen, ebooks are far more convenient. Your backpack can hold maybe four or five books, but one e-reader or tablet can hold thousands of titles. Plus, e-readers allow you to search text, share the saucy bits, and read at night without a light.
You can publish your own ebook relatively easily. Any text you find on the web that you'd rather read on your Kindle? Port it over. And, if you've got the time, you can turn your favorite antiquated paper book into an ebook too. It's just going to take a lot of page turning—and scanning.
So whether you're ready to share the manuscript that's been sitting in a folder on your desktop for years, or you'd like digitize an old paper copy of Cervantes, here's our guide to creating a digital copy of just about any book.
Pick a Format
There are a handful of popular formats that will work with just about any e-reader, but you'll have to base your final decision on whether the book is just for you, or for a wider audience.
If you're trying to share your debut novel with the world, the easiest path is to use Kindle Direct Publishing from Amazon. Run your formatted text through this free tool, and it will make your work available in the Kindle marketplace almost immediately. The tool preps your book to look great on the company's widely used Kindle software. It can then be devoured easily on any reader, phone, or other device with a Kindle app.
If you'd rather not put your book in Amazon's store, but you'd still like to make a Kindle- or iPad-readable ebook that you can distribute on some other website, try using a service like Blurb. The ebook creation software offers many options to lay out your book however you like.
Also note that all e-readers, including Kindles, can read PDF files. An easy path to digital publishing is to just output your book as a PDF, then host the file on the web. This is the easiest publishing method if you're digitizing an old book. Depending on the e-reader being used, PDF files may not be searchable, and some of the more advanced features of the e-reader may not be available. You can give those PDFs extra power by converting them into one of the ebook-native formats like the Kindle's azw3. The free software app called Calibre can convert your ebook to and from just about any format.
The Scan Plan
If you penned your new bestseller on a computer, publishing it as an ebook is easy. But if you're working from a real paper book—something hand-made, something with no digital version—you're going to have to scan it.
The cheap but tedious option is to flip each page and use a traditional flat scanner to capture each page. It's difficult to get a clean scan, though, and you'll likely lose some words to the shadow of the book's spine.
The coolest way to digitize an old page-turner is to use a book scanner with a flexible cradle. A commercial book scanner can cost upwards of $10,000, so unless you have a library of out-of-print rarities, you might want to see if there's a book scanner available at your local library. There are also services like Bound Book Scanning and Blue Leaf that have made the hardware investment and will digitize your book for a fee (usually under $15 per book).